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Judge Awards Titanic Savlaging Rights To US Firm

August 16, 2010

A US federal judge awarded an exhibition company $110 million for salvaging artifacts from the wreck of the RMS Titanic resting at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean.

The judge ruled that RMS Titanic Inc, which displays the artifacts in museums around the world, is entitled to their full market value. The court will also decide whether to grant the company ownership of the objects or sell them and give it the proceeds, BBC News reported on Friday.

RMS Titanic Inc, a subsidiary of Premier Exhibitions Inc, undertook seven expeditions to the wreck site 2.5 miles below the Atlantic, and has, so far, retrieved more than 5,500 artifacts.

The Belfast-built ship sank on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in April 1912 about 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, two hours after striking an iceberg. The disaster claimed the lives of 1,500 people. The wreckage was discovered in 1985 by an expedition led by Dr. Robert Ballard.

A US court granted the company salvage rights to the vessel in 1994 but openly stated it did not grant ownership of the wreck or the artifacts. The company has displayed salvaged artifacts in museums all over the world.

US District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith on Thursday found that the company’s monumental effort to reach the wreck and retrieve, conserve and exhibit the artifacts entitled it to the monetary award.

“The salvage of the Titanic has involved unprecedented feats of skill and dedication,” she wrote.

Judge Smith wrote that, in deciding the 17-year old case, she went back 3,000 years relying on marine salvage laws that had come about in ancient Greece.

She allowed the company to continue to display the artifacts but did not grant them ownership of the artifacts. She also gave herself until August 15, 2011 to decide whether to sell the artifacts through the court and give the company the proceeds or to give the company title to the objects after setting conditions for the care and future disposition.

In praising the company’s effort, Judge Smith noted the company had invented 20 specialized instruments to retrieve fragile artifacts from the wreckage, including a vacuum and a flat shovel used to retrieve stained-glass window.

She also noted the risk of peril that submarine crews had faced on the dives, pointing out that the pressure at the sea floor reaches upwards of 6,300 pounds per square inch, and any considerable damage to the hull could mean instant death.

She cited evidence that the Titanic is fast deteriorating on the sea floor, with the eventual collapse of the hull destroying any artifacts that remain there.

“The Titanic artifacts were previously lost on the bottom of the ocean, depriving the public of all social utility in their historic symbolism and cultural beauty,” Judge Smith wrote. “RMS Titanic has recovered those items from a fate of being lost to future generations.”

Image Caption: A view of the bow of the Titanic from a camera mounted on the outside of the Mir I submersible. Credit: NOAA

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